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Adding Navy all about pure survival for besieged Big East

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Ken Niumatalolo and Navy have a solid resume for the Big East. (US Presswire)  
Ken Niumatalolo and Navy have a solid resume for the Big East. (US Presswire)  

There's a big storm brewing in college football. It's headed directly at the college football landscape in 2014. A hurricane-like storm, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

"People in homes are not worried about it," Niumatalolo said.

Those people with homes reside in conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and the Big East.

Navy hasn't been exactly homeless, but the Midshipmen have been an independent for the past, oh, 132 years or so. That will change in 2015 when Navy joins the Big East Conference as a football-only member.

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"This allowed us to gain some refuge," Niumatalolo said. "We've been out in the open fending for ourselves. We had to find a home and we found a great home with the Big East."

In 2014, the new BCS cycle will begin, the storm Niumatalolo referenced. It might mean that there are no more automatic qualifying BCS conferences. Every FBS conference officially would be equal, but, make no mistake, there will be a clear separation between the power six leagues and the remaining conferences.

"We're at a place in college football where we needed to make a decision," Niumatalolo said. "The drift between the haves and the have nots was increasing and we wanted to be one of the haves. We're glad they gave us a ticket to the dance."

Big East commissioner John Marinatto's league has been trying to get Navy to the dance for about 10 years. The Big East finally succeeded.

"When people look back, they will make this as a truly historic day for the Big East Conference," Marinatto said.

The reaction on Twitter was, well, not as optimistic.

"Big East officially welcomes in Navy. Beats standing still, but doesn't move the needle much"

"Navy to the Big East? Stop yawning"

"Will Navy be providing the ship on which the Big East will literally sink?"

Those were just some of the replies on Twitter. All understandable and predictable.

The critics of the Big East basically parrot the same line: if the Big East would have added its new schools sooner (Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, UCF and SMU will join in 2013), then West Virginia, TCU, Pitt and Syracuse never would have left. Their other criticism is adding those schools doesn't strengthen the league.

The reality is West Virginia, TCU, Pitt and Syracuse would have still left to the Big 12 and ACC no matter what combination of those schools had joined the Big East because it is more financially lucrative in the Big 12 and ACC. That's not a big secret. And those ripping the league for adding the Boises, Houstons and Navys of the world certainly must realize that no school from the other five BCS leagues would "drop down" to the Big East. So the Big East is doing what it can to survive -- bringing schools up from the non-AQ BCS ranks.

The addition of Navy gives the Big East some national flavor and also a fairly decent on-the-field product. In the last nine seasons, Navy is 75-40. That's certainly much better than anything Pitt and Syracuse have accomplished. Navy's 75 wins in the last nine seasons rank as the 20th most in the nation -- the only current or future Big East schools with more are Boise State and West Virginia. Navy also has been to a bowl game in eight of the past nine seasons and it has 18 victories against teams from the AQ BCS leagues in that time frame, easily the most of any non-AQ BCS team.

But will the Big East survive? I'm probably in the minority on this, but I think so. No matter what happens in 2014 (BCS or non-BCS AQ leagues), the Big East (even without WVU, Pitt and Syracuse) is still, at worst, the nation's sixth-best football conference and a much stronger league than the Mountain West, Conference USA or even a combination of the Mountain West and C-USA. So whether the AQ BCS status remains, the league will still command on much better television deal when it signs a new contract in a year or two.

So what happens to the Big East and the college football landscape in 2014?

"No one has a crystal ball," Marinatto said. "What we set out to accomplish is to put ourselves in position -- whatever model there is in college football -- the Big East would be aligned to compete at the highest level. The steps we've taken since November [adding the five schools for 2013] has solidified our place nationally and we're confident no matter what model there is, we'll be in a very solid position."

Solid, yes. But some major cracks in the foundation could occur depending on what happens in the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. If those leagues decide to play Global Thermonuclear War and go to 16-team superconferences, I don't see the Big East surviving as one of the four 16-team football superconferences. But if that doesn't happen -- and it appears it won't -- the Big East plans to stay relevant.

Navy Vice Admiral Superintendent Michael Miller and athletic director Chet Gladchuk both stated that the landscape is quickly changing and the gap between the BCS and non-BCS schools is growing. Unless you're Notre Dame, there is strength in numbers by being in a conference, especially concerning television, scheduling and bowl opportunities.

"Are we biting off more than we can chew?" Niumatalolo said. "I don't know, but our players are excited."

So is the Big East.

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